Al-Rukban camp receives first shipment from Jordan in four years
A convoy of goods was allowed into the camp on Thursday, carrying with it a variety of basic foodstuffs, a resident of the camp confirmed to The New Arab.
"Foodstuffs came from Jordan and are being sold by merchants in the camp markets. This is a good step that could help facilitate aid coming to the camp in the future," Hassan (a pseudonym), the Rukban resident, said.
In the weeks prior, bakeries had shuttered and water lines had run dry as the Syrian regime prevented smugglers from entering the camp. Some camp residents had been forced to return to regime-held territory due to hunger, despite their fears of abuse at the hands of security services.
A spokesperson for the US-backed rebel group which controls the area, Maghawir al-Thawra (MAT), said that the goods were brought to the camp by "private merchants." They added that neither US forces nor MAT had anything to do with the arrival of the goods.
"This is not humanitarian aid. These are commercial products that entered the camp after a deal was struck between al-Rukban traders and Jordanian traders. This [deal] happened as a result of the siege imposed on the camp," Abd al-Rizq, the MAT spokesperson, told The New Arab.
Typically, goods cannot enter the demilitarized area where al-Rukban is located without the permission of MAT or US-backed forces.
Al-Rukban camp formed in the arid no man's land between Jordan and Syria in 2014. Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war waited on the Jordanian border for a chance to seek asylum in the Hashemite kingdom.
Following a number of IS-linked security incidents in the camp, Jordan announced that it would stop allowing any aid to enter the camp from its territory in 2018. Concurrently, the Syrian regime imposed a siege on the camp from its end and prevented any goods from entering.
The last aid convoy to reach the camp was in fall 2019. Camp residents survive off eleventh-hour solutions, including smuggling and growing a few crops in the desert.
Living conditions in the camp are dire and malnutrition is common. With few exceptions, medical treatment has not been available since Jordan closed the UNICEF clinic that used to service al-Rukban in March 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns.
In February, an infant was born with a critical respiratory issue in the camp. Despite entreaties from residents that she be evacuated to neighbouring Jordan or Iraq, she died a few weeks later due to a lack of medical treatment.
As a result of these conditions, the camp has shrunk from a peak of 75,000 to its present day population of around 10,000.
Activists insist that the US, which de-facto controls the al-Rukban area alongside MAT, has a humanitarian responsibility to the residents of the camp.
The US has for the most part rejected this, saying that the aid burden falls on Damascus instead.